American hero Captain Scott F. O'Grady, the Air Force fighter pilot who survived a six-day ordeal after being shot down over Bosnia, will be the featured speaker at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown's 38th annual Commencement ceremony. The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 1 in the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.
Captain Scott O'Grady made headlines, inspired millions, and taught the importance of preparation, teamwork, and leadership after surviving a six-day, life-or-death ordeal. Captain O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia while helping to enforce the NATO no-fly zone in an F-16. Alone, facing death, capture and the elements, he discovered within himself the spirit to go on and relied on the skills learned during a lifetime of preparing for the unthinkable. From Captain O’Grady’s compelling life-and-death story, he teaches audiences how to adapt, change and succeed even under the most daunting and trying of circumstances. Even while isolated behind enemy lines, Captain O’Grady remained a member of a carefully drilled team. In his address to the Class of 2010, he will describe the preparation, teamwork and leadership responsible for his survival and for his dramatic rescue by the U.S. Marines — qualities that are crucial to success in every facet of life in the real world. In sharing the ingenuity and fortitude that kept him alive in hostile territory for six days, he inspires audiences to their own groundbreaking achievements.
He tells his story in his book, Return with Honor, which spent six weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. His courageous story has also been documented on the Discovery Channel presentation, "Behind Enemy Lines." In addition, O'Grady has been featured on CNN’s "Voices of the Millennium," and "Then and Now," series that focus on the most influential personalities of the past 25 years.
Captain O'Grady earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1989 and was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corp in April, 1989. He received his master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2007, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in public service by the University of Portland in Oregon. As a pilot, Captain O'Grady has accumulated more than 1,300 military flying hours including over 1,000 in the F-16. He now serves as a spokesperson for the Save Ellis Island campaign.
Joining Captain O'Grady on the platform will be graduating senior Abby Gearhart, who will speak on behalf of the Class of 2010, and Jeffrey Burtner, who will speak on behalf of the students.
Abby Gearhart, daughter of Terry and Kim Gearhart of Elton, is an outstanding student-athlete who has achieved success both as a secondary education mathematics major and as a member of the women's volleyball team. In addition to serving as President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Ms. Gearhart is a Presidential Scholar and a member of Pi Lamda Theta. She is actively involved in the Mountain Cat Maniacs, Education Club, Student Outreach/Wellness Committee, and Habitat for Humanity. She received the Faculty Senate Student-Athlete Award, the Stanton Chapman Crawford Memorial Award, and the Charles Kunkle Jr. Leadership Award at this year's Academic Honors Convocation.
Student Government Association President Jeffrey Burtner, son of Jeff and Chari Burtner of Lower Burrell, will receive his bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in French at the ceremony. At this year's Academic Honors Convocation, he received the Joseph J. Rapoport Memorial Award and the Dr. Albert P. Vannucci International Studies Award. Mr. Burtner is actively involved in Sigma Tau Gamma, Student Council on World Affairs, and French Club. He is also a Student Tour Guide & Admissions Representative (STAR). Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a master's degree in government and politics.
Founded in 1927, Pitt-Johnstown is located in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. The University offers a high-quality educational experience in a supportive living-learning environment designed to prepare students for the real world of the 21st century. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by U.S.News & World Report as a “Best Baccalaureate College” (2010), by the Princeton Review as a “Best Northeastern College” (2010), and by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School.” Additionally, Pitt-Johnstown has been named to the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.